Earlier this year, travel got a lot more relaxing for animals in transit through New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) thanks to a simple pleasure: music.
At The ARK at JFK, dogs and cats can de-stress while listening to music specifically designed for animals by Zoundz Music for Pets, which plays in the kennels, veterinary office, reception area, and even in the vans that transport pets to and from airplanes.
“I think moving any animal by air is probably one of the most stressful things you can do,” says Elizabeth Schuette, president and CEO of The ARK at JFK. “So anything that we can do to mitigate that level of stress on animals – and also to provide some level of comfort to owners – is what we’re trying to achieve.”
Schuette hopes that offering soothing music to calm pets also helps calm their people. Many of the companion animals who pass through The ARK at JFK are dogs and cats transported by rescue organizations from overseas. The ARK also hosts pets traveling domestically and internationally, police dogs and other working dogs, and zoo animals.
“Our staff – the handlers that work in The ARK Pet Oasis – say the music is actually soothing to them as well,” she adds.
Zoundz Music for Pets is grounded in science. Derrick L. Garrett, founder and CEO, got the idea after a conversation with a veterinarian who was looking for ways to decrease stress for pets just before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As an audio engineer and record producer, Garrett’s mind immediately went to auditory enrichment.
“I found studies that showed there are specific parameters within a song that actually can have a positive or negative effect on both dogs and cats: chord progressions, the key that the song is written in, and the tempo of the song,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow – that’s very interesting.’”
He reached out to composers he knew and asked them to craft songs for dogs and cats based on such parameters and sought advice from renowned animal behaviorists like Fear Free Certified Professional Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB.
A local animal shelter began playing early songs from Zoundz to gauge what worked and what didn’t.
“We immediately realized that guitar is not the answer,” Garrett recalls. “But after a few weeks, I got an email from the CEO sharing how she would literally sometimes forget that she had dogs in the morning. She would walk in after playing Zoundz overnight and they just woke up in a much better state: calmer and not noisy. So that was the birth of Zoundz.”
His own dog, Miles (named after legendary jazz musician Miles Davis), loves the company’s dog-centric music. Similarly, the cat of a team member grew so enthralled by the cat-centric music that she began weaving in and out of legs, rubbing against her person affectionately, as soon as it started playing.
But the Zoundz team learned that cats and dogs have very different musical preferences.
“Cats gravitate to more electronic, high-pitched instrumentation,” Garrett says. “This high-pitched sound has a negative impact on dogs, like when sirens go off. But cats are actually calmed by higher frequencies.”
In shelters or homes where dogs and cats share close quarters, he advises playing music for dogs since cats can listen to it without a negative effect, unlike when dogs listen to cat music.
While pet parents can purchase subscriptions to the streaming service, Zoundz also created a charitable arm called The Harmony Project that donates the music free to nominated animal shelters, and Garrett personally finances speaker donations to play the music as well. (A deal is in the works for a company to begin donating speakers to the cause.)
“We really want to have an impact and help dogs and cats in any stressful environment,” he says.
That can include short- or long-term stays at pet daycares or boarding kennels. Facilities that are Fear Free certified may play calming music during your pet’s stay to help reduce stress or anxiety.
That impact is already being felt at The ARK at JFK, where the CEO hopes other major airports around the world implement similar state-of-the-art, animal-dedicated facilities with a focus on safety as well as reducing fear, anxiety, and stress for pets and animals.
“We’re dedicated to the welfare of animals moving by air and we want it to be the best experience,” Schuette says. “We want it to be the industry standard.”
For more information about The ARK at JFK, visit: https://arkjfk.com/
For more information about Zoundz Music for Pets, visit: https://www.zoundzforpets.com/
Published August 4, 2023